The first visitors and settlers to the Spokane County area were Native Americans. The Spokane Indians of the Interior Salish group have lived in Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana for centuries and gave the city its name: Loosely translated, Spokane means “children of the sun” in the Salish language.
Mineral discoveries in the 1880s started a boom, and mines brought wealth to the area for decades. Other economic engines were the lush wheat-producing Palouse hills to the south, the irrigated farms in the Spokane Valley, and the railroads and timber that made Spokane the prospering hub of the Inland Empire. By 1881, the Northern Pacific Railroad linked Spokane to the East Coast, opening the door to job-seekers, many looking for work in timber or mining, and to European settlement.
Incorporated on Nov. 29, 1881, Spokane continued to expand its infrastructure. A street railway system was established, bridges were built and platting the river’s north shore began. After a downtown fire destroyed 32 blocks in 1889, new buildings were constructed with brick — and many of those buildings are still in use today. In the decade after the fire, Spokane’s population nearly tripled to more than 104,000 by 1910.
Cheney was incorporated on Nov. 28, 1883, and Airway Heights on June 28, 1955, after the creation of Fairchild Air Force Base and Spokane International Airport.
In 1974, Spokane hosted a World’s Fair, the smallest city at that time ever to have carried out such a lofty ambition. Expo ’74, the first world’s fair with an environmental theme, helped the city reclaim its depressed downtown and the Great Northern Railroad Depot. The rail yard, which had fallen into disrepair, was converted to a park to host the fair, and the area today is known as the 100-acre Riverfront Park.
In 1980, one of the geologically youngest volcanoes in Washington’s western Cascades, Mount St. Helens, erupted. More than 50 people died in the catastrophic blast, and even Spokane, 200 miles to the east, was blanketed by volcanic ash.
The year before that, in 1979, Spokane County Parks proposed building a pedestrian pathway along the Spokane River to enhance public enjoyment and health, and the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Parks and Recreation Committee got on board with the idea: In 1986, they proposed a 10.5-mile trail in conjunction with Washington’s 1989 centennial. Then, coordinating with Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to the east, promoters expanded the plan to a two-state recreational trail from Spokane’s Riverfront Park to the east side of Coeur d’Alene Lake. About 30 miles of the trail had been completed by 1992. The Spokane River Centennial Trail is contiguous with the North Idaho Centennial Trail, and the trails together, more than 60 miles long, now connect Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.
Liberty Lake was incorporated on Aug. 31, 2001. Spokane Valley was incorporated March 31, 2003, and was the largest incorporation in the state and the second-largest single incorporation in the history of the United States.